WASHINGTON -- The nature of playoff hockey is such that many more times than not it comes down to goaltending. Them that have win and advance; them that don't go home.
Worthy adversaries during the first half of the game when their defense held the Capitals rushers at bay, the Senators fell easy prey once the home team's gunners drew a bead on goalie Ron Tugnutt.
Five different Capitals scored on just six shots over a 15-minute span late in the second period and early in the third to salt the 6-1 victory.
Tugnutt, a former Washington farmhand, hadn't done much more than practice for weeks as his fellow netminder Damian Rhodes had gotten all the work over the last 10 games of the regular season before leading Ottawa to a big first-round upset of the New Jersey Devils in six games.
The rust was apparent as at least two of the Washington goals fell into the "soft" category, although Tugnutt got mostly negative help from his defensive corps, being screened by them on numerous shots.
"This was a lot of fun and we're in great position," said Joe Juneau, who was credited with the game-winning goal, "but we know the worst thing we can do now is think beyond the next game."
"I think this team is mature enough to know we can enjoy this win for a while, but it's only one win," Adam Oates said. "In any case, we'll talk about it before the first game up there."
Despite his gaudy 7-1 career record against the Capitals, it seemed like a risky move, Ottawa coach Jacques Martin deferring to Tugnutt after Rhodes was beaten in the opener, 4-2.
He said: "We've gone all year with two goalies, and we've gotten the best out of both guys. This was a situation where I wanted to go with Ron because he's played extremely well against this club."
In games on a Wednesday night in January and a Sunday afternoon in February, yes, but Rhodes was a hot horse.
Senators players went with the move, well, sort of, offensive leader Alexei Yashin saying, "The switch doesn't matter. We trust both goaltenders.
Oates of the Caps, for one, had trouble fathoming the move, although he wasn't about to complain. "What if Olie [Kolzig] gave up four goals for us, would he get yanked? No way."
Perhaps making the whole situation moot is the fact Olie the Goalie was having another one of his nights. Prior to Yashin's scoring on a pick-and-roll to square matters momentarily at 1-1 at 10: 50 of the middle period, Kolzig had stopped two sure goals with his ever-ready glove hand.
Later and with his club up 3-1, Kolzig was required to make three reflex saves during a three-minute stretch when the opposition was firing from point-blank range. At this point, Ottawa had to be thinking, what's the use.
"You have to be in the right position to be lucky," said Kolzig of his 30 saves. "I feel like I'm not giving them a lot to shoot at."
Brendan Witt scored the first goal of the game for the Caps after the teams practiced their skating for about 30 minutes. Then it was Juneau, Joe Reekie, Richard Zednik, Brian Bellows and Oates pouring it on.
Ottawa ....0 1 0 -- 1
Washington 0 4 2 -- 6
Second period--1, Washington, Witt 1 (Juneau, Bellows), 9: 46. 2, Ottawa, Yashin 4 (Dackell, McEachern), 10: 50. 3, Washington, Juneau 2 (Bellows, Oates), 11: 14. 4, Washington, Reekie 1 (Tikkanen, Eagles), 14: 59. 5, Washington, Zednik 3 (Nikolishin, Reekie), 18: 58.
Third period--6, Washington, Bellows 4 (Johansson, Gonchar), 4: 43 (pp). 7, Washington, Oates 5 (Juneau), 15: 18 (sh).
Shots on goal--Ottawa 10-16-5--31. Washington 11-5-2--18. Power-play opportunities--Ottawa 0 of 7; Washington 1 of 4. Goalies--Ottawa, Tugnutt 0-1 (18 shots-12 saves). Washington, Kolzig 6-2 (31-30). A--19,740 (19,740).
Pub Date: 5/10/98